Here at MacStories we write about apps. A lot. Many of those we write about, perhaps even most, are created by individuals and small teams. And typically, those hard-working individuals remain unknown to the public who just know an app as something they use. Today we want to bring a bunch those indie developers to the forefront.
I wasn’t sure exactly where it would lead, but last month I asked on Twitter for independent developers to @ reply me and say hi. Amplified by retweets by Federico and many others, I got dozens and dozens of replies, ultimately totalling just under 200 responses. That’s both a pretty huge number (trust me, it was a time consuming process documenting them all) and also incredibly tiny (there are around 250,000 active developers and over a million apps for sale).
It would be completely ridiculous to perform any kind of analysis on such a small sample size, but it was nonetheless great to have a relatively varied spread of developers from all over the world (illustrated in the above graphic). But more valuable was the list of developers and their Twitter accounts. So I’ve created a Twitter list that includes every developer that @ replied me. We’ve also included the full table of every developer we collated, links to their apps, location and Twitter account (see below). Please note that developers and apps shown in the full list does not mean they are endorsed by me, Federico or MacStories. If a developer met some very minimal criteria, they were included.
Charles Perry of Metakite Software spent some time digging through the Overcast sales and rankings data (provided by Marco Arment last week) and extrapolated some interesting findings about the distribution of App Store income:
At the top of the long tail, in position 871 on the U.S. Top Grossing list, an app still makes over $700 in revenue per day. That’s almost $260,000 per year. Even number 1,908 on the U.S. Top Grossing list makes over $100,000 per year. In fact all apps above number 3,175 on the U.S. Top Grossing list produce enough revenue to at least make its developer the United States household median income for 2014 ($53,891).
That's the good news, because the bad news is that there are well over a million apps for sale and the earnings quickly fall as you go down the rankings. But Perry also makes the important point that many indie developers have multiple apps for sale simultaneously which can make a big difference.
So, with even fewer people than I expected making “yacht and helicopter money” in the App Store, I remain hopeful for my fellow developers. There’s a lot money circulating in the ecosystem, and a developer operating at indie scale only needs a little bit of it. It seems that even with the revenue curve tilted so heavily towards the big hits, the shape of the App Store still allows room for sustainable businesses to develop in the long tail. It seems that developers who work hard, mind the details, and treat their business like a business have a real chance of making it.
Keep in mind that Perry's conclusions are extrapolated from just the one data source, being Overcast. I'd be interested to see if the sales and rankings patterns from other apps fit along Perry's curve.
[via Hosam Hassan]
Speaking of sales numbers, a must-read article by Marco Arment on how Overcast did on the App Store in 2014:
The biggest unknown in the App Store is what happens after the launch has settled down. I don’t know what 2015 will bring, or where sales will bottom out. (With past apps, February was always my worst month, and not just because it has fewer days.) Promisingly, sales in the last 6 months have stayed within a fairly narrow range and aren’t showing a clear downward trend, although the bumps in November and December can be easily attributed to temporary boosts from Serial and Christmas.
Marco worked on Overcast full-time for about 15 months. Apple made $70,343 from Overcast in 2014.
Overcast is a fantastic podcast player that does things other podcast apps can't do. Marco found a niche big enough to sustain a business and managed to build a product that is useful and commercially viable. I believe that Overcast is a great example of how innovation in apps can still be possible and profitable.
And I can only nod in agreement at the last sentences:
I can work in my nice home office, drink my fussy coffee, take a nap after lunch if I want to, and be present for my family as my kid grows up. That’s my definition of success.
I'm always interested in learning how the App Store market is working out for indie developers and small studios. Over the last few days, we got a glimpse into the business of iOS games thanks to numbers and stats shared by the developers of two quality titles – Crossy Road and Monument Valley.
Crossy Road implements a freemium model and it has grossed over a million dollars with ads. The developers used video ads in an effective way:
“I played Disco Zoo and thought that video ads were a really good way to earn money without getting into people’s faces. We just needed to figure out a fun reason for players to watch them”. In the game, watching ads earns coins. Players can use coins to buy new characters that hop across the endless dangerous road in new and often hilarious ways. But it’s also possible to simply buy them with real money or just collect coins in the game.
Monument Valley, on the other hand, is an excellent premium game that allows players to download extra levels as additional purchases (the so-called paymium model). In a widely popular post, ustwo shared the numbers behind the game. Most notably:
- 2.4M official sales, 1.7M of which on iOS
- 575k upgrades to Forgotten Shores
- $5.8M in revenue, 81.7% of which on iOS
The numbers, however, also include more specific and interesting stats such as the number of players who completed the game (lower than I expected) and sales by country. I find it illuminating to see the effects of Forgotten Shores and Christmas compared to winning an Apple Design Award or releasing the game on Android.
Crossy Road and Monument Valley are two profoundly different games. Monument Valley had a big budget (for an indie production), a moderately large team, and it reaped well-deserved rewards. Crossy Road uses freemium mechanics with a unique twist, respecting the user's time and commitment to the game. In both cases, they are quality games, and two examples of the multifaceted (and crowded) App Store market.
Well, I think a lot of us are out there, quietly doing just fine. HoursTracker had its best year ever in 2014, and five years of best ever years before that. If you can solve an important problem in a way that resonates with a sizable group of people, you can find success. There’s always room for a fresh take on an already well-served problem, too.
We often hear about the frustrations of indie developers who are trying to make a living on the App Store, which has essentially become the default narrative for many (I often talk about this topic, too). Carlos Ribas, developer of HoursTracker, has a good article about the opposite scenario and how he managed to turn his app into a profitable business. Well worth a read to get a fresh and different perspective, and a good reminder that there are indie developers who are doing fine after years on the App Store.
With a press release, Apple today announced new App Store numbers and milestones, as well as updated statistics on job creation in the United States and globally.
From the press release:
Apple today announced that the first week of January set a new record for billings from the App Store with customers around the world spending nearly half a billion dollars on apps and in-app purchases, and New Year’s Day 2015 marked the single biggest day ever in App Store sales history. These milestones follow a record-breaking 2014, in which billings rose 50 percent and apps generated over $10 billion in revenue for developers. To date, App Store developers have earned a cumulative $25 billion from the sale of apps and games. The introduction of iOS 8, the most significant iOS update ever, gave developers the ability to create amazing new apps and offers innovative features which proved wildly popular with App Store customers around the world.
In the press release, Apple announced that 1.4 million apps are now available on the App Store, with 725,000 of them made for iPad. Apple estimates that the “iOS ecosystem” has created 627,000 jobs in the US, and, in an updated job creation webpage, they put that number at slightly over a million for jobs “created or supported” by Apple. The same mini-site includes other numbers related to the company's future Campus 2, US-based customer support, and more.
The App Store numbers come at an interesting time for Apple – the company has been criticized for some of its App Store practices over the past few months, but the stats shared today appear to paint a more positive picture in terms of overall growth and health of the market. Below, I've included some tweets by Horace Dediu for further context and analysis.
Joe Cieplinski writes about the importance of having a good website for your app:
Look, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do your due diligence with ASO, and that you shouldn’t care at all about getting people to rate your app. If you take a few hours doing some basic research, you can certainly make some improvements to your keywords that could boost your ranking considerably. But how many developers are throwing together what amounts to barely more than a skeleton web page, and then spending little to no time at all trying to drive people to it? I think there’s a lot to be gained by spending some time on this.
More than six years after the launch of the App Store, I find it curious every time I come across an app on the Store and either there's no link to a website or the “website” consists of screenshots from iTunes and an icon. This sounds obvious – having a good app website is important (sometimes absolutely necessary) and I completely agree with Joe's motivations.
Charles Perry has a great response to David Smith's concerns about the App Store being “full” (which I also pondered here):
We need to compete in niches, where there isn’t enough opportunity to justify the attention of large corporate developers. Don’t try to create a new bookkeeping app – Intuit will eat you alive. Instead build a bookkeeping app that’s tailored specifically for veterinarians or, even more narrowly, for large animal veterinarians. Don’t build a general purpose word processor – Microsoft has that space all locked up. Instead, build a word processor that’s specialized for a particular field like academics or screenwriting. Each of these niches offer plenty of revenue opportunities for a single developer. The big players won’t be interested, though. After all, a niche with potential annual revenue of $250,000 might be an amazing opportunity for an indie, but for the big players, $250,000 won’t even cover their engineering costs.
As I often argue, small niches can actually be pretty big on the Internet. Or, at least, big enough to turn a profit.
Dawn Chmielewski, writing at Re/Code, reports that Apple's Apps for RED campaign raised over $20 million to fight AIDS:
The technology giant partnered with software developers who sold apps or exclusive items and donated the proceeds to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS. The company also donated a portion of sales at its retail and online stores during two of the biggest shopping days of the year — Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Apple's campaign was a first for app downloads going to charity, and I'm glad that the company and developers involved managed to raise this amount for a good cause.